I was given a copy of the game Elder Sign recently, and I thought I’d share my impressions of it, and of its predecessor, Arkham Horror. Both are published by the same company that publishes Mansions of Madness. I shared my opinions on Mansions of Madness in Witches and Worse.
Elder Sign is an interesting species of board game. There’s no actual board, and although there are cards in play, it’s not what I’d call a card game.
The game is set in a creepy museum, which is represented by six adventure cards. The players are put into the roles of investigators of the paranormal who have learned some disturbing news. Cthulhu, or another Ancient One, is preparing to enter the world of the living. The investigators must prevent this by collecting Elder Signs, enough of which will seal an Ancient One away. They must hurry, for at the end of each turn, the game clock advances. When the clock strikes midnight, bad things can happen. Monsters may appear, the players may be cursed, or the Ancient One may grow in strength.
Elder Signs are awarded upon the completion of certain adventures. (They can also be bought from the museum’s gift shop, for a price.) Each adventure card has at least one set of symbols that must be matched by a roll of the dice. If all symbols are matched, the player wins a reward and ends his turn. The catch is that each time the dice are rolled without matching anything, a die must be discarded. Once a player runs out of dice, he suffers a penalty and ends his turn.
This game is easy to learn, and is challenging to win without being impossible. I’d suggest that in two player games, each player take two investigators each.
Arkham Horror is an earlier game from the publishers of Elder Sign. The situation is nearly identical: an Ancient One is preparing to enter the world of the living. However, in Arkham Horror, the players wander the streets of the city of Arkham, searching for clues, battling monsters, and encountering portals to Other Worlds.
The board has two areas, one of which represents the city, and the other represents the eight Other Worlds from which the portals issue. A new portal may open as often as every turn, so players must move quickly. If too many portals are open at once, the Ancient One arrives, and the investigators must challenge it in a final battle. A portal may be closed by moving into it and then adventuring through one of the Other Worlds, and it may be sealed by spending clue tokens or special items.
The players may win if all the portals are closed, or if enough of them are sealed, or if the Ancient One is defeated. The latter is quite difficult, and I can only remember having done so once. Because portals can open so often, I’d suggest a group of two to three players take two investigators each.
This is a hard game, a long game, and a big game. When I say big, I mean it literally. I need to expand the dining table to make room for the game board. When I say long, imagine Monopoly with Cthulhu. Well, it may not be that long of a slog— Cthulhu may eat you first. The fact is that it takes at least three turns to close one portal, and that’s when things go well. Add to that trying to get around a city that is overrun by monsters, and you can easily have an all-day event.
Despite the size, length, and difficulty, Arkham Horror enjoyed a spot as my favorite game for some time.